Entrepreneurship

How To Direct Your Own Fulfillment, Part Two: PREPARATION

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Last week we spoke about the purpose behind starting a business, a certain job, or even a hobby. This week is about Preparation. The article to which I referred last week spoke to the fact that a lot of entrepreneurs who are lured in by the title of entrepreneur start their businesses without really comprehending what goes into running the business day to day and, as a result, the majority of small businesses fail. Their founders are blinded by the shiny diamond of business ownership and do not stop to wonder what kind of pressure that diamond has to endure to become shiny in real life.

This is why, as the article states, passion and a big idea is not everything. A lot of background knowledge and preparation are needed as well. 

Preparation comes in a lot of forms, though. I will not say that there is one absolute requirement, but there must be something. The article mentions how the allure of the Entrepreneur title also comes with the mindset of diving in, taking risks, and failing in order to succeed. Even though all three of those things occur in the life span of a business, starting off like that with no training wheels is a bigger risk than should be taken. And a rather arrogant one.

Think of it like going into a job interview without doing any research about the company or the position. The candidate is either arrogant or oblivious, neither of which bodes well for sustainable success. 

Preparation for starting a biz can be many things:

  • graduate school
  • undergraduate classes
  • a relevant workshop
  • relevant work experience
  • interviewing business owners you know
  • reading Entrepreneurship For Dummies
  • listening to a podcast
  • keeping your day job
  • waiting a few years
  • praying to God
  • moving back in with your parents
  • all of the above

The cool thing about this modern age is that graduate school is not required for so many jobs. The positive of this is that more opportunities are available and people can take more risks on their own, but the negative is that people think that they are qualified for the pursuit. Even worse, they think they are qualified and dive in to something like entrepreneurship equipped with nothing more than their self-righteous determination. 

I thankfully had numerous levels of preparation when I started my company:

  1. I kept my day job
  2. I had four years of relevant work experience
  3. I knew multiple people who had started businesses and had interviewed them
  4. I had wanted my own business for so many years that the idea could marinate 
  5. I had a support system for the business inception
  6. I had an exceptional level of common sense and adaptability

I did not need to go to graduate school, I did not need to move back home, and I did not read a single book on entrepreneurship or business.

That six part prep I had gave me enough of a foundation to comfortably start a business, but by far the most important tool in my toolbelt was years of relevant work experience. 

I knew it was time to start my business when I realized how my skills could be offered in a valuable way on their own. I was able to assign a monetary value to them at the outset and I was working with clients before I even had a website, company name, or email address. Having not gone to graduate school for a MBA or having not started the business with anyone but me, myself, and I, I have had to adapt A LOT over time and change so many things: my business model, my services, my prices, etc.

But I was able to adapt with confidence because I had a strong foundation of my own unique preparation.

As my business continues to evolve, so does the kind of preparation that I need. 

Now let us extrapolate for those of you who are starting a new job or new hobby:

  • What kind of background knowledge or preparation do you need for that new job?
    • What kind of research should you do for it?
    • What questions do you need to ask?
    • Who do you need to ask?
    • What are you personally interested in knowing?
  • For a hobby, what kind of supplies are needed?
    • What background knowledge do you need to know about the activity?
    • Who could you ask about it?
    • What does the activity entail?

Even though diving into something is thrilling and makes for a great, risk-taking story, it is still a risk. In a later post we will talk more explicitly about the challenges of entrepreneurship, but for now continue to consider these two questions:

What kind of preparation do you have for your current ambition?

What kind of preparation do you still need?

How To Direct Your Own Fulfillment, Part One: PURPOSE

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I read an article yesterday on Business Insider about the traps that people fall into when they choose to start a business, aptly named "Entrepreneur Porn". It comes down to the question of Why they are starting the business. I will discuss a few aspects here, but the full article can be found at: https://www.businessinsider.com/starting-business-entrepreneurship-hard-7

Side note: I love how the shortened link title above says STARTING-BUSINESS-ENTREPRENEURSHIP-HARD. No beating around the bush. ENTREPRENEURSHIP HARD. That is the gist before you even click the link and read the article.

As I said above and so many times before, it is all about the why. The article talks about several aspects of specifically entrepreneurship, but I would like to expand that a little bit for my readers. I do not only work with entrepreneurs and so I want to connect the points to 9-5 jobs or even hobbies and leisure activities in which people participate. The two main points that I am going to cover in two separate posts are:

PURPOSE and PREPARATION

Purpose

The article discusses the sexy allure of calling oneself an entrepreneur or adopting the liberating mindsets of "not having a boss anymore" or "freedom to make the schedule I want". Those are all attractive, for sure, but then what? Once you LLC your company and technically are granted those freedoms, what are you going to do with the business? What next?

This is where the WHY comes in. This is all about what truly drives you. Whether you are starting a business, you work 9-5, or you started a new hobby (or habit re: last week's post), why you are pursuing that thing is the most important predictor of your future and satisfaction. Hoping to call yourself an entrepreneur or hoping to have a steady job are good goals, but they can be achieved in little time. Once achieved, you are left then with a lot of subsequent responsibilities you had not considered because your only goal was achieved at the start. After starting a business, there is a lot that goes into maintaining a business. Once you get a job, you have to show up every day and perform. 

If you only thought about obtaining one or the other, you will be in for a shock about what comes next.

It is like the phenomenon of weight loss. If you set a goal to lose fifty pounds and you do it, what then? People often cop out and say "I'll just maintain it" when really they did not set a new next goal to proactively start pursuing such that a new success is defined. 

The "allure of entrepreneurship" is something I have thought a lot about. I wanted my own company all the way back in high school, but why did I want it?  Why do I want it now?  Upon reflection, I have realized that, even though I agree with the article about how sexy the Entrepreneur title can be, that was never why I went into entrepreneurship. The title feels good, yes, for sure, but I learned that it is secondary to what really fuels me: creative independence. 

There are a lot of things about business management that I am so aware that I am not interested in and the delegation of which I am slowly learning how to orchestrate. I am proud of the fact that I own something unique and authentic, but being the "owner" is not my reason to do it. It is not my why. When my business grows and there is more of a team involved, I am interested in being its leader but not its owner, i.e. not an authoritarian dictator at the top of some hierarchy that I imposed because I own the company. That does not excite me. That is only ego. Being part of a team that is serving a brand does excite me. 

My why for entrepreneurship is the independence of it.

Homework: 

  1. If you started a business or want to, why do you want to be an entrepreneur?
  2. If you are currently working a "9-5" job, what does that job do for you?
  3. If you are currently searching for a job, why do you care about having a job? What is the specific motivator?
  4. If you have just begun a new hobby or are continuing an old one, how does that hobby serve you?

The reasons are different for everyone, and your unique reasons dictate your satisfaction with that pursuit. Take a minute to answer a question for yourself.

Your future depends on it.

What Is Missing In Your Life? Your Skills, Values, And Ambition Assessment

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What do you care about? 

I should just end this post there with that question. A real punch to the stomach that would hopefully confuse you and then stress you out as you think about how to answer it. 

I work with a lot of people starting businesses but I also work with even more people who dislike where there career is and desperately want to make some kind of change. The wall they run into on their own is an incomplete awareness of what is needed to make that change. 

A common framework that helps put structure to this mental roadblock is the definition of a person's unique skills, values, and ambition. In my class, I teach the importance of not only defining them but aligning them so that one's self-concept is rock solid. I visualize it for students like an equilateral triangle and talk about it like Tony Stark's triangular arc reactor chest-piece that he makes in Iron Man 2. When the energy is flowing through it, the whole triangle lights up with epic power. That epic power is available to anyone who puts the time and energy in to aligning their skills, values, and ambition.

Now back to you. Answer me this:

- have you ever gotten so inspired about something you care about but then you do not even start it because you do not know how to do it?

- have you ever gotten so good at something in your job and you have goals for yourself within the company but you never make progress because you do not care about the company's mission?

Let us break it down into common sense: 

1. If you care about something and you have related skills but you do not have goals or ambition, you will not be satisfied.

2. If you have a goal and skills that can help you achieve it, but you do not care about anything specific, you will not fulfill that goal.

3. If you care a ton about something and you have all the ambition in the world to go after whatever that thing is but you do not have relevant skills, you will not make progress. 

Unfortunately you cannot just have 2 out of 3.

No ambition = progress will be like molasses.

No relevant skills = you will feel incompetent and frustrated.

No core value set = you will become apathetic and aloof.

Now what is there to do about it? Assess yourself. Of the three categories with clients, I often start with values because people often have a more accessible sense of what they care about in life than the other two categories. 

Values

Let us start with values. Here are some guiding questions.

  • what are some things in life that matter to you, in general?
  • what is important to you in your work or at your workplace?
  • what kinds of causes or societal issues pull at your heart strings or fire you up?
  • what do you care about having in a relationship or your friendships?

Skills

Skills are sometimes harder for people to reflect on, so be gentle with yourself when you are answering these questions.

  • what are some things that you consider yourself good at?
  • what is something you love doing?
  • what are your responsibilities at work? 
  • what do you do in your free time?
  • if you know specifics, what abilities are you confident in?

Ambition

Ambition can be big or small, future or present. Think about any goals at all that come to mind.

  • what is your goal for your career right now, overall?
  • what is your goal for your work right now, specifically?
  • what is a goal you have for your relationships or friendships?
  • what is your personal development goal for the future - aka what are things that you want to learn about yourself, where do you want to live, what do you hope to personally achieve, separate from work?

The important thing to keep in mind is that you do not have to be able to answer every single question. I often customize these questions into only one or two that are specific to my client's situation. For you the readers, I wrote longer lists in hopes that at least one of the questions is helpful to spark your reflection. Do not put pressure on yourself to answer every one and to make sure your answers are perfect. 

If an answer comes to mind, no matter how disorganized or basic, WRITE IT DOWN. It will be your perfect starting point. 

Now, step two is to look back at your responses and feel which category either garnered the least awareness or was more difficult to answer. If only one stands out, great. If two stand out, choose one that feels most relevant to focus on first.

If it is your values, think about it again. Everybody cares about something, even if that something is video games or not going to work. 

If it is your skills, are you able to identify what skills would be helpful? If not, ask someone what they think. If so, what is a first step you can take to acquiring those skills - who can you talk to, what can you read/research, what class can you take?

If it is your ambition, ask yourself why you are having trouble identifying a kind of goal - is it because you do not like where you are at in life? If so, what don't you like?  Do you wish you could identify a goal? If so, who could you talk to for help around thinking about and defining goals?

Whichever one is most relevant for you is that on which your career satisfaction or your personal fulfillment depends. 

How To Innovate, Evolve, And Do What You Want

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If you followed my gospel from last week, you have already begun to rephrase how you do things "right or wrong" into doing things that are healthy for you and things that you genuinely want to do. Now that the pressure is lifted, how do you evolve? By innovating. 

I feel like no word is safe anymore because innovation, though an old word, is now such a buzz word in the business world. Ever since that fruit company (Apple, is it?) got in the habit of pumping out multiple products in a calendar year, businesses took the importance of making new products more seriously instead of relaxing on those that have worked for years. 

Humans need progress to feel adequate. 

No matter how small, one new step makes a big psychological difference in someone's self-worth. The past two weeks' posts have revisited the concepts of Commitment and Resilience in practice. Following the sequence, this week is about Adaptability. Now that the pressure of doing things right or wrong is alleviated, you have the free mental space to innovate, pivot, adapt, or transition in order to evolve in your work.

WHAT TO DO

The cool part is that judging decisions and risks based on what is healthy / what you want is now your secret weapon that can be employed in your product innovation as well. Here is how. Innovation can occur in three ways:

  1. You design the new product and implement it yourself because you want to and it feels awesome. 
  2. You design the new product and delegate its implementation to someone else because you only enjoy the design aspect and implementing it is not a healthy use of your time.
  3. You know that you want to innovate something new but you do not enjoy designing the new product or implementing it, so you delegate the whole project to someone else and act as its supervisor to approve whether it aligns with your vision.

Notice how all three of those were about what you as the owner wants and finds to be a healthy use of your time and skills? Pretty awesome how that works. And easier than you thought, huh?

REAL TALK

Even though the pressure of doing it right or wrong or perfect is gone, of course there is pressure involved with innovation. Market research is important so that you know what customers need and so that you can innovate to those exact requirements instead of guessing and praying. Amongst the pressure, listening to your genuine interest barometer helps you prioritize what ideas to pursue. 

I started my business as a creative and had to balance it with the business logistics I committed myself to learning over time. As a creative, it should be no surprise that I have a surplus of ideas that I would enjoy creating for my business. Because I am the only member of my team at the moment, I prioritize the little things that I can add for clients right now to augment the experience of working with me. "Well sure, Taylor, that makes sense because you have to do that for clients in order to stay in business." Yes, but ONLY BECAUSE I WANT TO.

I repeat: because I want to.

I am facing the need to innovate in lots of ways right now, and I am doing the market research for it, but I consistently decide how to spend my energy based on what would be healthy for my goals to work on in this moment. 

WHAT IS NEXT

Hey all you non-entrepreneurs out there! This works for you as well. For those of you who work in a corporate job, what evolution do you currently seek? What is your ultimate goal in your current role? What innovative steps do you want to take to get there? This could be a conversation with a boss, collaborating with a colleague in a different department, or taking a weekend workshop to acquire a new skillset.

Let us break it down.

#1 Starting: Whether you are an entrepreneur innovating a new product or a corporate employee hoping to evolve within the company, start by thinking like a creative. Start listing out any bit of an idea that comes to mind and break it down a little more if you can. Map it out if you can. Draw a flow chart of what it would need to be born. If you do not identify as creative, then only list things out. Stick to words for now. Write down whatever comes to mind.

#2 Learning: Whoever your audience or community is, fire up the ole Google and research whether the ideas' keywords you wrote down relate to any current need in the market. If it does not, that is okay. It may down the road, so do not erase it. Move on to the next one. 

#3 Acting: If you found an idea that strikes in the market, ask yourself whether or not that is interesting for you personally to work on.

#3a  If it is not interesting for you to work on, is it still interesting to you to have in your business? If so, what kind of help do you need?

#3b If you do not know what kind of help you need for it, who is someone you know that you can ask: "hey, do you have advice on who I would ask to help with ________?" Simple as that. 

#3c If it is interesting for you personally to work on, how do you go about starting? Do you have the necessary knowledge or skills to do it? If not, with which requirement would you want to start?

You will feel pressure at every turn of your business or job. Your interest in your professional evolution gives you motivation. Your motivation faces up to the pressure in the moment. Asking yourself what action you want to take from there is the positive step forward. 

You Are Thinking About "Right and Wrong" All Wrong

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DO THE RIGHT THING.

YOU ARE DOING THIS WRONG.

IS THIS RIGHT?

WHERE DID I GO WRONG?

Do you ever ask these questions? Better yet, do these questions rule your life? Are you distracted by doing things "correctly"? "I want to do it right" is probably the most common problem I hear clients complain about when we discuss obstacles to their success. I hate this notion that there is a right or a wrong way to do things in life. That is right, I just said Hate. Oooo, strong word! It is the most unhealthy mindset because it puts so much pressure on you to be perfect. Look back at my post on making imperfect action a few weeks ago. So many people think that something has to be perfect for it to be put to market or submitted to a boss. 

WHAT TO THINK

Of course you want to complete something well and feel proud of it, like that science project you spent a week constructing in high school for the science fair, but using the words Right and Wrong puts more pressure on you than is already there for the task.

Example 1, Creating a logo: Holy cannoli people think this has to be perfect. The first pressure in getting a logo made is whether or not you as the business owner likes the logo. A mere emotional reaction. The second pressure is when the business owner worries whether or not it is perfect for their brand. Uh-oh, now there is a double stack of pressure and only one of them actually matters! 

Spoiler alert: the emotional response one has to the logo is the only answer you need. It determines how well suited the logo is for the brand. It is a beneficial double whammy. Which means you are left with the extra layer of pressure dangling off the side that relates more to how the world will perceive your brand, and not the logo itself. Which means you do not need that pressure while the logo is being made. Which means you need to chill out. There is no right or wrong. 

Example 2, Nobody likes your product: This is where right or wrong really hits home like a wrecking ball for people. When an owner gets feedback that their service was not effective or the customer did not enjoy the product, this must mean the entrepreneur is a failure. Better luck next time. 

NOPE. This means that you now have data to inform how to change your product...if you WANT to. That is the key. What do you WANT to do with the feedback? 

Feeling like a failure is a choice. You call yourself that. It is another story you tell. 

Do not worry, I am guilty of it too. I am guilty of thinking that there was a right way to progress in life. Originally I thought that the right way was to get good grades in high school so that I go to a good college, work hard there so I get a job, go to grad school so that I can become an "expert", and then settle into a career that makes money. A lot of people do this, and it is not wrong to do so. But thinking that there is one single right way to do this life thing is not true and it is not healthy. 

I thought it until I got a bad grade in a class and realized that it was not going to impact my work prospects after college. I thought it until I realized that my gut was not compelling me to go back to graduate school as I thought it "should" have over the past six years. It does not matter when you do something, because it is YOUR choice based on YOUR desire. It is nobody's business to tell you when you must do something. 

I know what some of you are thinking: "But Taylor, there is definitely right and wrong. I could lose my job if I do or say the wrong thing."  True, sure. There is a wrong answer to math problems (I would know, I struggled with math). There are inappropriate things to do at work that threaten your employment (I would not know because I am an angel). But I encourage you to think of the words differently.

WHAT TO DO

"Right" and "Wrong" have a heavy, sharp, pressured connotation to them. Even if you feel like you did something "right", you feel the pressure about it. I want you to change the words. I want you to try saying "Healthy" vs. "Unhealthy" for YOU instead of "Right" vs. "Wrong" based on someone else's expectations. Doing so alleviates the pressure and makes the outcome positive. Not only that, it taps what you feel good about.

Try it out: Instead of thinking that you did something wrong when your product receives criticism, ask yourself "what do I want to do about it now? What would be healthy for me to put effort into adjusting?" 

In the absence of extra pressure, there is more space to be inspired. 

WHAT WILL HAPPEN

Right vs. Wrong relates to following what we think of as rules and acceptable behavior, but what we do not think about is the fact that we humans made up the word "rules" and "morals" and defined "acceptable behavior". Now that I dropped that knowledge bomb on you, I am not telling you to go kill someone because morals do not exist. Instead I am telling you to take the pressure of perfectionism off of your task because no human has the power to tell you a one single right way to do things. 

By thinking about what is healthy for you or what you want to do instead of what you have to do or should do, you promote your own confidence and growth while connecting why your work is healthy for you and why your work is healthy for the world.

You are promoting healthy human evolution instead of addressing a single microscopic moment of pressure.  

I have a client right now who knows she must have a difficult conversation with her mother in order to move forward as a confident, independent adult. She began saying what she "needs" to do and why she "has to" do it, but over the course of a few conversations she has shifted the language and realized that she genuinely "wants" to have the conversation because she recognizes its beneficial outcome.

Her body language has changed, her motivation has changed, and now she wants to face the challenge because she sees it as an opportunity for growth. Not just popping a stress bubble that will come back in another form later on. 

This is the resilience I wrote about a few weeks ago. If you face challenges with the question of what next move would be healthiest for you, you will never experience setbacks as failure again. You will take a next step, and then another, and then another, because there is no right way to move through life. There is only the way that you want to. 

How To Break Free From Entrepreneurial Perfectionism

Break free from your idea of Perfect.

Break free from your idea of Perfect.

This is one of probably a billion blogs that exist on the internet. Think about how many individual blog posts there must be out there in the cloud. I have read a lot of posts on lots of different topics. Some are articles from other platforms that are copied and pasted into a blog for more exposure. Some are written as a full time activity by serious, well experienced writers while others are written by teens for social media. Blog writing is non fiction so the writer crafts the structure and then types the words in his or her own personal voice as opposed to fiction in which the voice can change based on the needs of a story.

I have worked with a lot of people who say that they "have to" have a blog because everyone else does. A lot of those same people have terrible blogs to which they inconsistently add content. It becomes a chore when you have not posted anything in months and feel like you "have to" or "should". 

Here is the thing: blogs can look like whatever you want them to and they can say whatever you want them to. There is no demand for what needs to be written or how it is presented. That is up to you and what feels right.  

In this way, there is no perfect.

There is no ideal. You find out what works for you and you put something out. That is business. 

So many people and entrepreneurs in the world freak out because they start a blog or create a product and business but do not want to launch it to the world in fear that it is not perfect. I hear this a lot. It is counterintuitive. It is the very first thing you have ever put out to the universe. How could it possibly be perfect?

It is like handing in a first draft of a paper thinking that it is the only draft that you are allowed to write. 

Thinking that your product needs to be perfect on the first go closes you off to the golden feedback that the world will give back to you once the product is out there. That feedback is the only thing that will help you understand how to make your product valuable. Not perfect, mind you. It will never be perfect. 

What is your product right now? What are you working on that you are hesitant to share? Why are you hesitant to share it?

Looking back on my own entrepreneurial journey, it is funny how incredibly unfocused my niche was when I started my business. I was confident in the first service I offered, but it was a service that could be offered to so many kinds of people on so many kinds of projects. I was the epitome of a generalist in the self-expression / writing / public speaking world. I did not know why that was a bad thing, though, at the time.

The reason I was comfortable launching my product is that I had waited a long time to start a business. I knew that I only had to organize my product enough to convey on a website, for instance, in order to first offer it. I also knew that I was new to the business world. I am lucky that I never perseverated on how perfect the first draft needed to be because I was so ready to start a company.

If you read the past few weeks of posts, this idea of making imperfect action connects to the Commitment of starting a business.

You must commit to accepting that your product will never be perfect.

Once you do, all of the pressure is lifted. The stress of perfection is eliminated and you can play around with your product and get feedback and engage with customers with more fluidity and momentum instead of kneeling underneath the boulder of having one shot to make it perfect.

I started my blog three years ago because I thought I had to have one, too. I wrote two posts and nothing else for years. In fact, I made the blog page of my website invisible for a long time. But then I realized what I wanted to say about life and business, so I re-enabled the page and started writing. I picked a day of the week to post, I knew my limits, and I wrote without fear of perfectionism because it is my blog and there is no such thing as perfect. 

Here is what you do: Whatever you are stuck on, whether it be a blog post or product launch or Kickstarter campaign, choose one thing and put a simple version of it out there to the world. Publish your blog post or put your product description on your website. Take whatever that first small action might be for you that combats your idea that it must be perfect. Put Post-It notes around your home with the words "There is no such thing as perfect" on them for a first step if you are still scared about launching whatever it is.

All the while, ask yourself this question: how could it possibly be perfect if no one has been able to give me feedback on it?

The 3 Crucial Personality Traits You Need To Start A Business, Part 3: ADAPTABILITY

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Let us check in. At this point, you have started a business (maybe) and we have covered how the first two important characteristics to possess in entrepreneurship are commitment and resilience. Dope. You are mentally focused with commitment. You are standing strong with resilience. Your beach house is sturdy.

But now what? What the heck do you do next?

Commitment and resilience are great but they are isolated to moments of preparation and reaction. What is missing is the action in between that moves your business forward in some way. 

This is why characteristic #3 is ADAPTABILITY

Adaptability creates movement. Commitment and resilience are the bookends. 

Tomorrow you will send an email. You will make a landing page. Test a prototype. Whatever is on your to-do list. Because you have committed to scaling your business, you will succeed in achieving the most important items on your to-do list, moving yourself that little bit forward. But that success does not remain. You will get tired. You will procrastinate. Your prototype will break. A client refuses to pay you. You committed, though, so how can you handle adversity that comes on a daily basis?

You adapt. The two types of adaptability are to pivot and to evolve.

1. Pivot = changing direction for a period of time in order to maintain movement.

 

This could look like temporarily switching to a different task or changing the entire focus of the company and starting in a totally new direction.

A few years ago, I became stuck with my business because I realized that my business' obstacle was marketing. I did not yet know what kind of marketing would be most effective for my business, but I did know that I had ZERO knowledge or training in marketing and ZERO interest in learning about marketing. That was the choice point. I could either pivot and temporarily focus on something else or I could evolve and learn about marketing. 

I chose to pivot because I did not desire to learn marketing enough at that moment to pursue it, even though I knew that I desired to learn it at some point. 

2. Evolve = advancing your skills and knowledge in the moment in order to overtake the adversity.

 

Examples of this include developing self-talk rituals in order to push through procrastination or enrolling in a graduate degree program to learn all new things that will serve your business.

I have evolved in many more ways than I have pivoted throughout the life of my business. For example, I recently took an online class on a personal development coaching method that is similar to what I already offer but fills in the blanks that I noticed in my current service. When I recognized a client's need that I could not meet, I chose to learn how to meet that need instead of pivot and change the direction of the client's goals at that time or adjusting my service offering.

Disclaimer 1. Let me be clear: pivoting does not mean ignoring.

Because you are changing direction does not mean that you are turning a blind eye to an obstacle that would benefit you to overcome. In my example, I knew that marketing was important and that I would have to learn it at some point. At that time, however, I did not have the desire to learn the skills or the resources to hire someone else for the task. 

Over the few years that followed, I learned not only what kind of marketing is appropriate for my business but I was also ready to devote time to learning how to enact it. I pivoted three years ago knowing full well that I would have to face marketing some day.

Disclaimer 2. The form that evolution takes is specifically different to every person.

For one entrepreneur, it may look like mental fortitude to get off the couch or pick up the phone. For another, it will look like formally enrolling in a class or hiring some kind of coach. Another still may sit down on their couch and teach themselves the new skill. If you read my post way back about learning styles, ask yourself how best you like to learn. Knowing that will help you plan for how to react when an obstacle comes your way. 

If you can learn to implement both, you are golden forever because you will always have new opportunities to practice. For now, start with what feels healthy for you. 

Reflection questions:

What obstacles have you faced so far? 

How did you respond to them?

What obstacles are you currently facing?

How will you adapt to them?

The Five Habits You Need To Build Resilience As An Entrepreneur

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My blog's earliest, most loyal follower and advisor gave me feedback on my previous post about Resilience and the Entrepreneurial Hurricane (which makes this post Part 2 of last week's Part 2...mind blowing...)

We discussed how entrepreneurs can create resilience for themselves beyond the reminders of Why they are in business in the first place. We came up with a cool Five Step Process to fortify your beach house:

1. BE OPEN TO FEEDBACK

Exhibit A: This post is being written because I am open to feedback. Without feedback, you do not know how the world is receiving you and what you offer. You might say "I don't care what the world thinks of me", which is noble and impressive and all, but you might want to care about what the world thinks of your business if you are trying to sell a product. 

The best part about feedback is that it comes in so many forms:

  • your mom after reading your blog
  • your dad asking about your financial situation
  • your friends who test your products
  • comments on your social media posts
  • total strangers at a networking event
  • customers after buying your product

You can walk up to a stranger at Starbucks, explain your business, and see what they say.

I have done that a lot, actually. I am so interested in people's responses after I describe what I do because their questions and comments inform how I am describing my service, from which I can adjust my wording. 

I won't go into the nerdy corollaries of how social feedback contributes to species evolution right now, but it suffices to say that you need feedback in order to grow anything, so start practicing openness to it.

 

2. CHOOSE WHO TO LISTEN TO

This one is a big one. If you are open to feedback, you are going to hear it from everyone and everything. The challenge is compartmentalizing what you hear and applying it to your future. As a result, you have to pick and choose what you listen to. 

This happens to me a lot. I mentioned last week that the biggest trap in which I get caught is that of unrealistic comparison to other entrepreneurs and business people. Over time, I have stopped listening to as many interviews by celebrity entrepreneurs and stopped reading as many blog posts about what I "should" be doing right now to succeed. Those people do not know me. Their words are not tailored to my business, so I must determine if I can apply any of their value to my current goals or push it away. 

If you get in the practice of taking some pieces of advice and avoiding others, you will realize who around you gives the most applicable feedback for your business. For me, it is my girlfriend, a handful of advisors, and my clients. I form such a deep connection with my clients and their stories that their feedback on my service is the most golden nugget of input that my business could need. 

For your business, to whose or what voice is most effective for you to listen?

 

3. MEDITATE

Yea, I know I am the billionth thing that has told you to go meditate in the past few years, but this is real. As I discussed in a past post, meditation is a very active practice and it is all about energy.

Meditation helps you slow down and channel energy toward what fuels you. If you can sit still for even five minutes with your eyes closed and watch your thoughts flow around while you are breathing, you will begin to see themes come up in your thoughts. Often times the common thoughts you sense are related to fears or anxieties but, relating to #2, you will also notice voices either from within you or people outside of you. 

Drawing awareness to these voices, even for just five minutes at a time, will help you acknowledge what voices are helpful to hear and which are harmful. 

That way, you can more comfortably deflect negative self-talk while working because you know from where the self-talk might be originating.

 

4. LOGICAL GOAL SETTING

Now that you can discern what to listen to and what not to, you can more clearly see what you want to accomplish today, this week, this month FOR YOURSELF.

I repeat: FOR YOURSELF. Stop thinking about other brands "like" yours, because there are no other brands like yours. No one performs my kind of consulting in the exact way that I do it. Based on the feedback that you have received about YOUR product, what is next on the to do list to keep things going? 

Edit your website?

Change your prices?

Start an email campaign?

This took me a while to understand for myself. I want to write books and create social media campaigns and give lectures and send email newsletters and make TQ coffee mugs and tee shirts and I have wanted to do all of those for years. Even though I am capable of doing all of those things, doing all of those things was not realistic at the time I thought about doing them. 

Similar to the famous line in Jurassic Park, just because I could do something does not mean that I should. 

I got down on myself because I was not accomplishing all of those cool things that a business might have, but then I realized that I was focusing most of my time on customer service and defining my product, which is far and beyond the most important. 

So I wrote all of those cool possible projects down in a list such that, over time, when it feels appropriate, I can look at it and choose one to try out.

It gives me the freedom to focus on what is important right now and still try new things going forward. 

Make the list for yourself of things you either think you "should" be doing or things that you would like to create. Then think about what you have been working on and ask: "what needs to be accomplished right now?"

 

5. PATIENCE, YOUNG GRASSHOPPER

Being a business owner, you can know everything about what going on with your business. This is positive for the sake of productivity, but it is also a challenge because you are the one who thinks most often about the big picture. 

The big picture can be torturous because we business owners want to get to that end goal NOW. We creative, ambitious types are so freaking impatient. It motivates us and tortures us. 

If you have completed Steps 1-4 at this point, then you have a sense of what goals to pursue today. If you actually meditated, you also know how to take a productive deep breath. 

Step #5 is a gentle reminder to be patient. You see the big picture goal. Even though you will not attain it today, the realistic goals you set for yourself today and pursue this week will continue to authentically serve your big picture. 

Take another deep breath. You are doing the work. And you rock.

Now fortify that beach house. You are going to live there for a while.

The 3 Crucial Personality Traits You Need To Start A Business: Part 2 - RESILIENCE

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Okay so you are starting a business. If you read last week's post, you have started to consider the kinds of things to which you must commit beyond the exhilarating fantasy of your product or service idea. It is okay if you do not want to commit to scaling your business and running it from there as an enterprise. There is no shame in that. Just as many entrepreneurs start their business and then decide to change it due to their true interests as those whose ideas do not succeed and the business flops. 

Lesson #1 about starting a business is that it is alllll yourssss. Yes, there is the pressure of succeeding with it on your own, but it simultaneously relieves the pressure of someone above you hounding you about deadlines and "the way it should be done." With that in mind, take a deep breath, look at your list of many many options of places to start, and remember that the choice is yours. 

Now that you have realized there are things called bookkeeping, market research, and email campaigns and you have committed yourself to grinding through them because you care about your mission, you must begin to fortify your defenses when the storms arrive.

Personality trait number two is RESILIENCE

Resilience is defined as "the ability to recover quickly from difficulties" and as "toughness; elasticity". Enough said. 

Entrepreneurship is like building a beach house during hurricane season.

You take care to put every material into its functional spot and build the house such that its strength and efficiency increase its value for years to come. But you build the house in Florida and you can see far into the distance (Are you with me on the metaphor so far?). Then challenges come up:

  1. Early investment of your own money in the house = darkening skies 
  2. Prototyping your product = cloud layers
  3. People demean your idea = rain falls in the distance
  4. Feeling isolated = clouds start to swirl
  5. Self-doubt creeps in = rain clouds move toward you
  6. Vendors terminate a contract = bolt of lightning
  7. No one buys your product = the wind changes
  8. You pick up shifts as a barista to pay rent = the rain wall descends on the beach
  9. Society and the internet tell you a billion different things to do = the storm hits the mainland

Overwhelm ensues. What will you do? How much do you care about your idea? What have you put into the walls of your brand that will help it survive the maelstrom? Even if you have only built the first floor of your beach house, can you sit there amongst the raging winds and pelting rain and still take that next tiny step forward? 

  1. Early investment --> google how to raise money
  2. Prototyping --> who can you test it out on (friends and family are good ones)?
  3. Demeaning people --> that's fine, move on to the people who support you. 
  4. Feeling isolated --> positive self-care and reminders of the courage it takes to face the risk you have.

You see where I am going with this. There is ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS a next step, however tiny, to take that still moves you forward but it is up to you to choose to take that step. This is critical to remember. Unless you choose to eliminate the business altogether (which is your choice), you always have another option. No matter how helpless, alone, lost, and foolish you feel. 

I know because I continue to face hurricanes myself. Fun fact about me: my longest standing insecurity is about confidence in competence, or being competent at anything. Even when I achieved great success playing soccer growing up, I felt much self-doubt and perceived incompetence.

You can imagine how a personality complex like that has played into my entrepreneurial life. There are times when my brain goes numb and I cannot recall what I even offer people, what value I bring to them, or why I thought I could be an entrepreneur. I have moved around the country three times in the four years of my business, needing to reconstruct a network and find new clients each time. There have been periods of time when I had 0 clients and 0 leads. There was a time when I did not feel motivated to seek out new leads. 

For me and my life long fragile sense of competence, though, the thing that has kept the hurricane swirling is the expectation that society puts on me as an entrepreneur. I have heard ENDLESS, COUNTLESS, RELENTLESS suggestions on how to run a business, "needing this or that or my business is doomed", from tv, internet, and social media. I have fallen into the trap oh so many times of comparing myself to other business owners and authors of other blogs (who are not in my industry and who may not actually be successful - who knows?). 

I am sensitive to the comparison trap because it feeds my self-doubt. 

Here is the thing, though. I would have never been in the position to compare myself to other entrepreneurs had I never started a business. Furthermore, why do we compare ourselves to others at all?

Because we care about something. 

We start businesses for a reason. There is always a Why that is uniquely yours. I have written a lot about the Why because it is your brand's narrative and conveys your value for the world. In the case of the hurricane, however, your Why is what will get you through. 

Every time I hit a lull or moved or felt overwhelmed or curled up and cried because I was not like X, Y, and Z founders of A, B, and C companies, I can always remember why I love what my business offers and what entrepreneurship offers me.

Do what you have to do to remember!

  • Post-it notes around your apartment
  • Accountability partners
  • Finding that perfect Spotify channel

I am not foolish enough to think that getting my beach house through one hurricane means there will never be another hurricane. In reality, there are rain storms every day that I must face, and the hurricanes will only get bigger as time goes on. 

But when that next storm comes for you, there is no greater brand management tool on the market than a good old fashioned deep breath and remembering your Why.

The 3 Crucial Personality Traits You Need To Start A Business: Part 1 - COMMITMENT

You meet commitment at the intersection of excitement and fear.

You meet commitment at the intersection of excitement and fear.

This week marks the start of three posts on the most crucial personality traits needed to start a business. Even though I will discuss it in the context of entrepreneurship, each of these themes can be applied to other jobs, workplaces, and career shifts. All are welcome. 

A lot of my clients and students fall into the classic creative trap of focusing so much on the idea of their business and the excitement that they feel that they do not step back and consider the logistics of its execution.

This is normal.

It is so exciting to come up with an idea for a business that you think will make millions and change the world. I have come up with dozens and dozens of ideas for businesses and collaborations that feel cool when I imagine them. When I think a second later about what would be required to execute them, I am not excited. Even with the companies I do have, there have been several points where I have had to pivot because the block I ran into was something about which I was not excited (often some kind of marketing, it did not feel authentic to me and I did not have the funds to hire out for it).

As a result, I tabled it and focused my energy on what was energizing. 

I am getting ahead of myself, though. LESSON #1 is on the COMMITMENT to your idea.

We are creative in our own ways and our values allow us to care about different things. When we come up with an idea for a business that aligns with our values, it is like a nuclear bomb of exhilaration in our circulatory systems and brains. We feverishly white board our ideas and diagram out our product options and design logos and taglines and what our office will look like and what color post-it notes we will buy, but we do not think about buying those post-it notes tomorrow, getting an accountant to track our expenses, then talking to people outside of our team to see if the product could be helpful.

Why? Because it is not exciting. It is not fun. It is not time spent in La-La-Land dancing with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone on sets only your imagination can create. The logistics are the hard, grey cinder blocks that keep you down here with the rest of the dirty world and which remind you to pay the bills and construct a real product. 

This is the difference between having something to say and committing to starting and running a business.

If you have a great idea, you want to share it with the world, but you do not care about scaling a business that becomes your career, that is fine. Own it. Write a blog, sell coffee mugs, give talks, and leave it there.

If you have an idea and want to make it a business, you must commit to exactly that. 

Act on the assumption that your business will grow. How does that demand make you feel? Are you excited about that opportunity for growth, or does the idea of keeping up with the growth repulse you?

This is the most important question to ask yourself as a beginning entrepreneur. You could be a rock star undergrad Entrepreneurship major prototyping an awesome product, but it will not go to market if you are not committed to the grind of networking and pitching. You could be a 30-something who just received huge funding for trials of a new miracle treatment, but you have to be committed to the long game of the trials and execution if you want to match value to that investment money. 

Entrepreneurship is hard. Much hustling is required. That is why taking a long awkward look at yourself in the mirror and asking "To what about my idea am I committed?" is the most important first step. 

I started desiring entrepreneurship back in high school, and not until I formulated my very first real true business idea in college did I stop and reflect on why I wanted to own a business. My first idea was cool and super creative, and had I pursued it I probably could have cornered the market and quickly done well with it, but it was not exciting to me at that moment. I was not interested in what was required of running that business at that time. 

So I waited.

Desire only grew, which is so cool, and the opportunity arrived right when I was ready to commit.

I still did not know what would go int to the day to day logistics, but the difference was that I was open to committing no matter the responsibility. 

In conclusion, whether you are a budding entrepreneur with an idea, you have started a business, or you have owned a business for years, check in with yourself. What is your commitment level? What do you care about now and how has that changed over time? To what about your idea can you commit yourself RIGHT NOW? What feels exciting to you within your brand?

FEEL THE BURN! How Personal Branding And Corporate Branding Are Not That Different

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A dear friend of mine and the owner of Sweat Concierge, which provides all the fitness hot spot recommendations you would ever need (and the beats to listen to while you are there - check it out), got me into a stimulating conversation about what "branding" is. You readers should know by now that that is probably one of my top topics to nerd out on. After all, I teach a class on it (message me for more info about that).  

When I teach a class on personal branding, I always ask the audience how often they hear the word "branding" these days and it is pretty common to hear that the word is all over the place. I talk about personal branding a lot because that is what I help individuals with and several of my mentors' careers have been devoted to broader brand design and strategy.

When discussing it the other day, my friend was confused that I was talking about so much emotion and psychology in my blog when she always associated "branding" with the larger corporate world. She is not wrong, but branding is talked about so much more in the startup and millennial world as well. In fact, it is everywhere. I told her that the distinction between what I do and the commonly known business branding is not a matter of definition but a matter of magnitude / scale. Let me explain: 

In personal branding, I help individuals align their interests, core values, and personal goals toward personal contentment. In corporate branding, it can be said that the same categories are addressed but for a larger institution instead of a single person all in service of the company's productivity and success. The two kinds of branding are very similar, but different by scale.

Let us explore further:

The origin of the word branding, as many probably know, is the use of a hot iron to mark something - or someone - to show ownership or simply to label it as belonging to something, some place, or some group. The word comes from old German in which it means burning and transitioned into a verb in Middle English as in to leave a permanent mark and subsequently began to imply ownership in the 1600s. Branding was most commonly used on livestock to show which was owned by whom, but unfortunately the practice extended to slaves and criminals. Despite the intended target, branding denotes belonging. 

These days, tattoos denote gang affiliation. In the American Indian world, perhaps hair styles and jewelry were relatively similar but garments of clothing and artwork distinguished tribes from each other around the country. Think about right now. You can often tell who belongs to the class of superwealthy by the clothes they wear or the cars they drive or what google says their net worth is. No matter what, branding is everywhere whether you like it or not. Even if you reject the idea of branding and walk around the world naked all day long, that is still your brand! That is still showing others - graphically - how you enact your place in the world.

Branding is about the story that is expressed to the world. I believe that brand strategy for large businesses and corporate departments is interesting but I more strongly believe that if the individuals within those companies do not understand their own personal brand that they bring to that company and those around them, the company's brand will never be quite complete.

Now here is where it gets hairy: sure, you could argue that a company could hire a brand strategist who designs a campaign that makes the company enormous success without talking with the employees about their ambitions, interests, and core values. Absolutely. Because brands are everywhere and we all have our own, there is no one singular brand to rule the world (cue the audience member who yells out "Amazon!"). There are successful brands and less successful brands, but that is relative to intention and is boiled down to understanding. My clients understand themselves so much better - their emotional patterns, communication styles, goals, interests, and values - and can more confidently express each of those in daily life to improve their communication, interactions, relationships, and work satisfaction. This is only possible because they were open to a new understanding. One of my mentors was once hired by a large company and worked them through his whole process of narrative and brand design only to be met with a lot of "but why though? I don't get it." It was not my mentor's inability to describe new story channels for the company, but the company leader's inflexibility to understand and accept the new brand identity. 

My clients come to me when they are feeling the need for some kind of change either in their work, career, or relationships. They notice something is not working and there is a tension inside of them that burns into restlessness. So many people never respond to the restlessness except with anger. They stay stuck, go home and vent or drink it away, then get up and repeat. Those who want to make that change, though, look outward for guidance and take action. The catch is that, even though they recognize their ambition to make a change, there is a whole lot of fear pulling them back toward their familiar, un-risky daily life.

Being stuck in the middle of fear and ambition creates even more tension within someone and confusion within their mind. People lose sight of their interests, they think that their goals are somehow misguided, and very often resort to judging themselves in the sense of doing things in a right or wrong way. Does this sound familiar to you? It sure rings a bell for me and my evolving personal brand (not my company, but me as a person). A few years ago I learned that there truly is no such thing as right or wrong with regard to your "path." It is simply a matter of what is healthiest for you as an individual. If you are restless, stressed, and angry from unenjoyable work, your body and mind will have a hard time maintaining a healthy condition. If you respond to tension by talking it out with a colleague or partner and strategize how to productively ameliorate the tension, you will feel healthier in your body and your mind will feel clearer. A matter of acting forward instead of covering up. 

I knew as early as high school that I wanted to start my own business at some point, which is why - ESPECIALLY now - I feel in my gut that a lot of jobs in an office of some kind working for someone else would cause tension and restlessness in me. I help people navigate that murky, dark, scary place between fear and ambition, and what can be discovered there is a new understanding of unique story that is powerful whether for an individual or a large company.  

So whether it is you stressed at work in the cubicle farm, crushing a PR at the gym, feeling awkward at a Christmas party, or telling someone you love them, understanding the why of your experience continues to define the brand story you express to the world every day. Like the hot brand that indicates the farm to which a cow belongs, show the world how you are a part of it. 

The Two Most Important Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Life

I majored in Neuroscience in college. Remember how I said I am a nerd? If you need more confirmation, just keep reading. 

But seriously, I majored in Neuroscience (and now own two businesses? How does that work??). I went to a liberal arts college and went in with the most common liberal arts course of study: UNDECLARED. I thought I wanted to study history, so Freshman fall, right off the bat, I took an Ancient Greek History course. Greek and Roman histories are my favorite so I thought this would be a great place to start exploring. So many names and dates, thought papers, and discussion classes later, I realized that the bleak career prospects were not enough to appeal my interests in the subject.

My second choice was psychology because I had enjoyed it in high school. Freshman spring I took intro psych with a visiting professor who spoke to a lecture hall full of forty students as though they were teeny tiny toddlers learning how to keep drool in their mouths for the first time (I think she was a child psychologist by trade). Beyond her tone, cadence, and overall way of interacting with us, her lectures were slow and her tests were hard. HOWEVER, a neuroscientist from Indiana University who somehow happened to be in Middlebury, VT, exactly when we needed to learn the anatomy of the brain and nervous system (?), presented the neuroscience lecture and holy smokeshow I fell in love.

No, not with him. With his sweet, beautiful, nerdy words about the brain and nerve cells and autonomic responses. Speaking of autonomic responses: I was autonomically reacting to the subject matter in the same manner I did when I first fell in love with a human female.

Flashback to exactly a year before that: In high school AP Biology senior year, I did not hesitate to dissect the brain of a fetal pig even though the internal body systems were all that were required for the lab report grade. I painstakingly chipped away at the skull and gently shaved it away so as not to damage the brain tissue underneath. I peeled off the coating of the brain and slowly wiggled the brain out of the spinal column.

I had no idea why I so comfortably volunteered to do it and immediately went after it in my free periods or why I took suchpride in holding the brain of another animal in the palm of my hand, but it happened all the same. I was in flow.

Fast forward a year and even though a brain was not in my hand, the love was back in my heart. I immediately declared neuroscience, found my advisor, and signed up for all the classes in the major I could. I even finished my general ed requirements by the end of Sophomore fall so that I could literally spend two and a half full years nerding out on the best subject matter of all time. 

I will never forget sophomore spring when I took four science classes in my major, two of which had labs, and people began to ask me: "so what are you going to do with neuroscience?"

Good question, though it is beyond me why I was being asked that mere months after I declared and before I was even halfway done my college tenure. Despite that, this is what it came down to: it did not matter. Who cared what I did with it? I did not care. I had no interest in going into the field of neuroscience at the time but I simply loved the subject so damn much. 

On a particularly stressful night before I probably had two exams, a paper, and a lot of reading assigned, my dad asked me on the phone: "why are you studying it then if it is causing you that much stress?" I know he cared about my health and was genuinely concerned, and I was equally genuine when I shrugged to myself and answered: "because I love it."

I still do not know why I fell so hard in love with neuroscience, but there also does not need to be an explanation. It simply clicked.

We all have unique interests and we are all presented with choices.

What to study, where to live, where to move, where to travel, how to get there, what job to get, what career to create.

No matter your interests, there is something in a choice that connects to who you uniquely are as a person that pulls you toward an option or away from one. Either way, the choice you make says more about you than the choices on their own. Something inside me guided me to work on that pig's brain and that says a lot more about my personality than it does about the fact that a fetal pig was lying on the lab counter in front of me with an untouched head. 

What is it about you that guides your decisions? Why are you where you are? It is okay if the answer is: I made a mistake. That is fine because it is accountability for a choice you made. Even if it turned out to be a mistake, you still made a choice and that act says a lot about who you are and where you are in your life. 

So question number one is: no matter what choices you made to be in the spot you are right now, what do you love about what you are doing? Think about it. Is it something about the work itself? Do you just enjoy the commute? Are you thankful that your job sucks and it gives you something to complain about? What is it for you? Why do you get up and do it all the time?

I have discovered - only recently, mind you - that the unique love I have for neuroscience is about the exploration. I will get into more of that at a later time, but it suffices to say that the architecture of the brain and its organization and functions present the opportunity to explain everything about who we all are. I think the brain is cool as a physical object, sure, but that is not why I took so much time and care to breach the pig's skull. It is because the experience offered an opportunity for exploration. 

So question number two is: now that you know what you love, what do you want to do about it?

Where do you want to take it? Is there a change you want to make, or a next step within your role that you want to take? What are you going to do with your love?

A lot of people I work with hit this point where they realize there is something in what they do that they love that keeps them going every day and that they want to do something about...but they are terrified of taking a next step because they cannot articulate answers to these two questions.

I have answered them for myself, and the second answer continues to evolve, but that is okay. That is the process. When you are in love, the feelings evolve. The nature of the connection evolves. 

What evolution are you hoping for?

The 3 Pillars Of My Brand

In both The Tailored Quill and my second company, The Axon Program, apart from my mission statements and value propositions, I assist people with three life-changing elements:

  1. Awareness
  2. Acceptance
  3. Accountability

Boom. There you go. There is a nugget for you. Now go off and thrive with that, if you can. If you want to learn more, keep reading and stay tuned. These will come up a lot. 

See, you cannot have acceptance without awareness, nor accountability without acceptance. There is a logical order to it. Just like the order of the universe, though, the order consists of chaos.

Clients come to me when they are in some inner crisis of ambition. Their external world may seem ordered but inside everything is in total disarray. An unfortunate majority of people in the world wait until the chaos begins to boil over before they reach out beyond themselves for some kind of assistance (see post #2). Even though I wholeheartedly promote the vulnerability it takes to ask for help, I understand that a lot of people do not know how.

No matter what, there is such great awareness and acceptance already there when someone chooses to ask for help. The person is aware that they are stuck, stressed, or helpless and subsequently accepts that they themselves do not have the resource knowledge necessary to ameliorate the tension. 

That is huge! People do not realize how impressive it is that they have that awareness and that they are able to accept that they  do not know something. The reason people do not see how impressive it is is because the sensation of helplessness and the vulnerability needed to ask for help feels TERRIBLE to most people.

I am working with one client now who without fail will give themselves a mini pep talk and then preface a question they are about to ask me, all because the experience of asking for help in any way and showing that open vulnerability has always been severely unfamiliar. It is like the setup routine a professional weightlifter displays before attempting a lift.

Once the stress response subsides and the endorphins sift back in to their blood stream, most people are able to stop and think "Huh, I did that!" and hear me when I tell them how impressive their self awareness in that moment was. 

That is why my work is collaborative. I present the space for you to be safely vulnerable. You take the risk of asking for help. I label how impressive your capacities for awareness and acceptance are. You revel in your new personal glory. We set goals as a team for accountability. Then we repeat. Over and over and over. In every kind of way.

I took a cellular biology course during my sophomore year of college and during one lab session we learned how to run analytical tests of data we had collected. I entered in data, a graph appeared in the report, and I had absolutely no idea what the graph meant. I stared at it for a so long, one eye on the obnoxiously loudly ticking clock on the wall, knowing that I had to understand this one piece if I was going to complete the assignment. As I began to sweat and panic, I felt helpless. 

Then I acknowledged how many times I had stared at the graph in that previous ten minutes and I knew that I did not have the answer. I took in an exasperated breath and asked the TA for help. I recognized her supportive way of guiding me to come up with the answer on my own, and we both relished the epic flood of epiphany that I felt when it all clicked. 

Now translate that to your life at work. What if you have an assignment due at the end of the workday and you are staring at the materials with wide eyes, seeing no where to start? 

What about if you feel stuck in your job and want to change careers but have no idea how to go about it?

What about if you want to start your own company?

We all feel that panic and we are all aware that it is panic. But it is what we do at that moment that determines whether we remain helpless and slip into despair or learn something new and grow. Maybe you have already felt the despair before, so I walk on the wild side: take the same exasperated breath I did and ask someone for help. See what happens. 

How to find a resource! Hint: Be afraid...

Merriam Webster defines resource in numerous, but related, ways:

  • a possibility of relief or recovery
  • a source of supply or support
  • a source of information and expertise
  • a natural source of wealth or revenue
  • an ability to meet and handle a situation
  • {and most importantly...}
  • a natural feature or phenomenon that enhances the quality of human life

Let's get the obvious one out of the way. When we say "someone has the resources for x...," it is often clear that we are referring to money in some way. A resource in that sense is almost like a relaxed recognition that money is there and can be accessed as necessary.

Okay, great. Let us move on. Resource comes from Old French meaning "a source or spring", refers to "a means of supplying a want or deficiency", and "to rally and raise again." It also comes from Latin's root word for resurgent, relating to the idea of rising from some lower point.

I think that is pretty cool. We seek resources when we acknowledge a need of our own or a gap in our knowledge, however big or small.

The first time I ever made my own appointment at the dentist's office when I was younger, I was petrified. The fact that my parents had made appointments for me before that point made me think that there was this grand, special way to do it that only they were allowed to know and that there was definitely absolutely a right or wrong way to do it. In other words, a high probability I would fudge it all up and be eternally ashamed. I was lucky to recognize my mom as the resident expert at the time on this knowledge that I needed so, what did I do, everyone? Say it with me: I. Asked. Her. For. Help...! Very good. 

She was all like "Yeah, just tell them that you need a cleaning and see what days they offer might work." 

Am I on candid camera? Was that it?

You know the emoji of the narrow, focused eyes and the one pensively scratching its chin? Combine those two and that is the face I remember giving to how simple her answer was. This is how a resource presents the possibility of relief and recovery. Not only was all of my pre-pubescent anxiety immediately extinguished but I also acquired a new skill of confidently picking up the phone and advocating for something I needed from the big scary dentist's office.

Resource seeking can be as simple as my younger, cuter self calling the dentist or as complex as someone with an epic idea wanting to start a business (I know there are bigger examples but no, I am not going to mention the kind of resources our marvelous president should definitely seek right about now...).

I have met so many people in the startup world and, having created two startups myself, there is an endless need for resources in the form of information and expertise.  Even though I listed what the dictionary calls a resource, actual resources are completely subjective. My clients see me as a resource for personal branding and building narratives, but the way in which they need that is unique to them and their journeys. 

A common misconception is that seeking a resource is a one-way effort. But instead it is an exchange. A matter of teamwork.

You are the one that has to break the ice, though.

No one will know you need their supply and support unless you put yourself out there in an honest and authentic way. I was shaking in my socks when I asked my mom about the stupid dentist but my vulnerability could not have been more authentic because, well, I was terrified to make the stupid phone call. 

I prepare for every single meeting, phone call, email, text message, what have you, when I am seeking aid from a resource so that I am able to not only honestly ask the question I want to ask but also contribute back to the discussion and subsequently put the work into applying whatever was taught to me. It becomes a mutualistic interaction around an agreed topic.

I learn from my clients every time I speak with them and it is my job to provide resources to them in any form they need. Narrative evolves (stay tuned for more on that) and so do everyone's needs for knowledge, including my own. If we continue to practice our authentic expression of vulnerability when we realize we don't know something, everyone will benefit and their eventual resourcefulness will be filled with new skills and knowledge that they can then share back to the world themselves. 

Remember, the origins of the word resource reiterate the theme of rising up from a place of deficiency. A resource can empowering, uplifting, helpful, and exciting if you are open to seeking it.

I am humbled that the mission of my companies and the mission of so many companies with which I am acquainted echo the last listed definition of the word: the enhancement of human life. 

Whether you want to call the dentist or start a company or anything between and beyond, I guarantee there is someone who can relieve your angst and I hope you will take the step to reach out. We will all be made better for it. 

I saw the sign! How to ask for help about asking for help

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Two weeks before I "officially" "publicly" launched my company in Colorado in June of 2015 (even though I had started working with clients that February before I had a website or a name or anything - just details), I took this picture at the parking garage of a friend's apartment building and it's probably the most important picture I have ever taken.

You are thinking what I thought:

A) Kinda creepy.

B) Where was its author?

C) What did they need help with?

To this day, I hope that the person received the magnanimous assistance they required and the sign was placed by the dumpster because the person no longer needed to call out for help and wanted to make sure their artwork was recycled. The sign stuck with me not because of the concern for its origin but instead because its message is the driving force behind everything I've ever done in my career. 

Nothing I write in this or any future post will fully convey the significance that the theme of "asking for help" maintains in my soul. I ask for help all the time. I get a weird satisfaction out of asking question after question. If one person gets sick of answering them, I will move on to someone else. I don't care.

Of course I went through the perfectly human phase of discomfort asking for help: the pre-pubescent arrogance that I had everything under control and I knew everything...right up until I didn't know anything.

In every math class ever in my academic history, it took me all of five minutes to realize I had no idea what was going on. It took me longer than that, though, to feel unabashed about raising my hand and, when the teacher asked "Which part is confusing you?", saying "Umm...something about something...you said about that stuff" while beckoning to the chalkboard. See? I didn't know what the heck I needed help with, I just knew I needed a whole lot of help.

The one exception was one summer during college when I had two brilliant ideas:

1) go to med school

2) take Calculus 1 and Physics 1 summer courses as prerequisites for pre-med.

Starting a mere week after my sophomore year ended, the first session of Calculus 1 was pitched as the review day of Pre-Calculus material that we presumably "had learned in high school or college already".  NOPE. Not this guy. And that's not a slant at my high school Pre-Calc teacher; she was fantastic. It was all about that summer professor (it's fine, he doesn't remember me). My brain has been through just as much as the next hypersensitive emotional intellectual millennial, but what hewas throwing up on the whiteboard that morning looked more like intricate wallpaper with which I'd ignorantly plaster a future office wall than information that I would have already known for my brave pursuit of a career I didn't want.

I didn't raise my hand once that day. Other people did, to answer questions, not ask them, which only confirmed my suspicions. I withdrew the next morning and returned the textbook, swapping it for one on Neurobiology (#nerdstatus1000).

I digress. That's a lot about me. But bravery in the pursuit is important to bring up. I've worked with thousands of people so far in my career, children and adults, and I only got the opportunity to work with them because they accepted that they needed help and were somehow in some way comfortable asking for it. In the mental health treatment programs, residents were at the most extreme crisis moment of their young lives and chose to ask for help. It's still mind-boggling. They chose to be vulnerable, seek out the aid of strangers in a strange place, and battle the suffering to which they could have instead so easily succumbed on their own. It's similar with current clients. Whether charged with giving a speech or inspired to build a brand, everyone gets to a point where they gulp and ask "Crap, what do I do next...?"

I guarantee you have needed help before and I guarantee you've asked for it at least once in your life. You're not perfect. You may be arrogant but you're not perfect. And I'm here to remind you it's okay - just like the person who spray painted that sign at some point in the past. It's okay to not know everything and do something about it.  Even if you don't know what help you need, ask for help on that. Asking for help in order to learn what help you need to ask for is still asking for help. Following?

Sparknotes: ask. Just say "Help". We all need help. We all need our own form of support. Even if you don't need the kind of help that I offer through this company, you can still ask me for help. In fact, do it. I dare you. If I can't help you, I'll tell you. I still don't know everything, but I'm working on that...